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New storytelling program for aged care

A new initiative hopes to promote the use of storytelling as a therapeutic tool in aged care. Darragh O Keeffe reports.

Francis Icasiano is passionate about the potential impact of his fledgling not-for-profit organisation, the Biography Program.

He describes it as a unique opportunity to celebrate what aged care residents can contribute and give back to their communities. “That is their own unique story; talking about their achievements, ups and downs and the lessons learned throughout your long life.”

As the name suggests, the Biography Program aims to help residents and clients in aged care document and publish their life stories. The initiative will train and support volunteer biographers, as well as facility staff, to facilitate the story-telling process.

While the initiative is still in its infancy, Icasiano has already secured the support of groups such as COTA Victoria, Volunteering Victoria and beyondblue.

“It’s about helping older people to tell their story and really it’s a celebration, bringing value to the rich stories that exist in our communities,” he tells INsite. “Whilst a lot of people focus on the finished product, in terms of the historical record or legacy, it is in fact much more than that; it’s about the process of storytelling and the meaning attached to that.”

Icasiano says the process of sharing and publishing a life story has benefits for client, their family and the broader community.

“For the client it’s providing a meaningful and productive activity over and above the usual activities you find in nursing home; where people have the opportunity to record memories and reflections and pass on key pieces of information to families and loved ones.

“They are able to perhaps resolve things in from past, some call it a reconciliation of sorts … It might be difficult memories or relationships in the past.”

While the program is primarily seen as a therapeutic process for the client, the published biography often has an impact on family and loved ones, he says.

“It takes on a new and exciting dynamic, where families gain this amazing insight into the life of their loved one.”

The program is based on an established model, the Client Biography Service, which has been operated by Eastern Palliative Care since 2006. Icasiano trained as a volunteer in that service, and its developer, Jenny Kearney, is supporting the Biography Program for aged care as advisor.

An analysis of that program found high levels of satisfaction among clients and family, while staff reported it made a unique contribution to the quality of life of their clients.

Under the Biography Program, a client will be linked with a trained volunteer biographer. They meet for an initial session where the program is explained, and then again for six to eight hour-long sessions where the volunteer helps the client record their life story. The volunteer transcribes this recording, and edits it under the direction of the client. Photos, artwork, poetry and momentos may be added, and the finished product is then printed and bound.

Icsiano is hoping to launch a pilot of the Biography Program this year. He says some grants are “in the pipeline”, though the initiative is also seeking donations. It is also recruiting volunteers to become biographers, and is planning a fundraising screening of the movie Life in a Day. He says he is also taking expressions of interest from aged care providers and has met with several community groups and local councils.

For more information on the Biography Program, go to:

www.thebiographyprogram.wordpress.com

To contact Francis Iacsino, email: [email protected]

Related INsite stories:

The dignity of the personal story Helping older people record their experiences and hand down their knowledge is helping them and their loved ones. (IN, 16.04.12)

The wonder of words Telling the stories of your life’s journey can provide meaning in later life, particularly for culturally and linguistically diverse seniors, author Arnold Zable tells Darragh O Keeffe. (IN, 20.02.12)

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